In HMV today, I was behind a very old couple, who were asking about the Wii game Bully. The girl working at the counter was explaining to them that it’s really not all that violent or controversial of a game when you actually play it. The best part was that the old couple totally seemed to get it, and ended up buying the game, presumably as a gift for someone (but who knows; the Wii is breaking down age barriers). When I went to pay, she told me that she loves explaining video games to old people. We talked about how Bully is awesome, and the controversy over it, and similar games, is silly, but only sells more copies in the end. I probably should have developed a crush on this nerdy HMV girl, but alas, I was very hungry and thus unable to think of anything but food.
Of course, this is all very timely, with the big game in the news right now being Grand Theft Auto 4. The media is making a big deal out of it as usual (see this, this). I don’t really see where the issue is. It’s a mature-rated game, like hundreds of others, that yes, will probably be played by kids anyway. So?
Oh, well, this one has better graphics than others in the series, so it’ll be more influential on fragile minds. But hey, you know what else has amazing graphics? Television. And movies. They almost look real sometimes! So why hasn’t society crumbled under the morally corrupting influence of The Sopranos?
I’ve only played GTA 4 for a few hours (which is a lot more than some assholes commenting on games they’ve never seen or played), but so far, it’s pretty mild compared to a lot of TV and movies. It’s really not senseless exploitation either. It’s a well-written story, told in a well-designed video game, that includes violence as part of its subject matter.
I think the escalating controversy over video games is partly due to their rise as a legitimate art form. Just look at Blockbuster, where GTA 4 will be displayed on the new release wall alongside movies. And even if the content is less extreme than in other forms of media, people get nervous just because it’s wrapped in a new package. I imagine similar complaining happened during the jump from radio to TV. I know it happened when comics became popular. They got over it.
Human interest in the dark side of life isn’t going away any time soon, so it will be reflected in whatever media we use to express ourselves. And it’s a good thing our forms of media are becoming more sophisticated, because remember, we used to watch real people murder each other for entertainment. No matter how much those red pixels on the screen look like real-life violence, they’re still just pixels.
See also: Murder good, nipple bad.